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First Global Study of Elite Athletes’ Experiences as Children Documents Systemic Abuse, Shows Urgent Need for Reform

In the first global study to look at elite athletes’ experiences in sport as children, more than half reported having suffered emotional abuse at least once, the World Players Association said in a new report released today at the 4th World Players’ Development Conference. The two-year project highlighting athletes’ testimonies of lasting legacies of abuse is a collaboration between World Players Association, its affiliates and Loughborough University. 

The 2021 Census of Athlete Rights Experiences (CARE Report) documented elite athletes’ experiences through in-depth individual interviews and 297 online surveys. One in three elite athletes reported experiencing physical abuse while training or competing as children. One in two athletes were not aware of the existence of a union or player association and almost 70% were not aware they had rights before the age of 18.  

“World Players’ CARE Report tragically demonstrates that, for many child athletes, sport is the source of abuse and trauma when it should be an opportunity for development and growth,” said Brendan Schwab, executive director of World Players Association. “Clearly, safeguarding measures many sports bodies are adopting must be augmented by genuinely including child athletes’ voices, embedding their human rights and ensuring effective remedy, including reconciliation and compensation where abuse has occurred. Project CARE highlights the need to build the capacity of the players association movement to effectively represent child athletes, a vital gap we are determined to fill.” 

Read UNI Global Union and the World Players CARE 2021 Report

From the report

A female swimmer described how an unhealthy context had been created related to weighings and how she felt that this particularly impacted female athletes:

We were not provided with accurate information on eating healthily, on working out and things like that. So what happened was, we had weigh ins, so I was weighed every morning, from the age of 14 to 18 on a scale that my coach brought in and put down on the pool deck. We were paraded along. Everything was set up on the boys side of the pool where we stretched. The scales were there, you would walk by and the guys would be there. Of course, the boys never had to lose weight.” (Female Olympian)

These experiences clearly impacted athlete’s self-concept:

“I was manipulated into thinking that I was overweight, and that that was going to impact my swimming. Every week we had to make a weight and it had to be lower than the week before. I’ll tell you right now, there was no weight on me. I didn’t need to be losing weight constantly.” (Female Olympian)

Read the World Players CARE 2021 Report

fit athlete during training on running track
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on


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